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Founder: Future of Forecastle Is Being 'Better, Not Bigger'

Willie McLean

You probably know the basics of the Forecastle story. What started in 2002 as a small gathering of local musicians in Tyler Park took off because of its unique blend of music, arts and activism -- also, of course, its slogan.

The festival eventually landed in its current spot at Waterfront Park with more than 75,000 attendees at its high point. This year, with headliners that include The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams and Alabama Shakes, organizers are expecting a similar draw.

But if the music festival continues its current trajectory, won't the homegrown Forecastle eventually outgrow Louisville?

“I think the short answer is ‘no,’” says festival founder J.K. McKnight. “Louisville is such an integral part of the DNA of the brand.”

McKnight says the focus moving forward is on getting better, not bigger. It’s an ongoing process of weighing what the annual three-day festival -- which has been produced by AC Entertainment (also of Bonnaroo fame) since 2011 -- does well against areas in need of improvement.

“I think we excel in vibe and atmosphere, which is something we hear a lot,” he says. “I think we also excel in convenience. That’s something people come up to me throughout the year and say, ‘Man, Forecastle is my favorite festival because it is so easy to do, because the hotels are close, everything is walkable, and once you are on-site, there are no lines.’”

McKnight also cites the diverse programming that the festival has attracted over the years -- from smaller local acts to national headliners like The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, Jack White, Outkast and The Flaming Lips.

But then there are aspects of the festival McKnight would like to see develop in the future, starting with how they use Waterfront Park -- a location he says is ideal for Forecastle.

“The setting of a festival, that’s half the experience,” he says. “It’s all about the built environment and how you utilize that.”

McKnight says there are countless nuances make it an ideal location, like how the Great Lawn drains water so quickly or how the overpass operates as a huge stage structure.

“But there are always site improvements, there is never a year where we do our postmortems and say, ‘Everything was perfect,’” McKnight says. “We’ve come close, but there is always a thing or two that didn’t work right there, and we need to put it here. That’s why when people come back year after year, there are little adjustments.”

McKnight says running Forecastle is about constantly evolving, but its location is one thing that won’t change.

“If it left Louisville, it wouldn’t be Forecastle,” he says.

Forecastle takes place July 15-17. More information is available  here.

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